By: Dave Slater, Head of National Operational Projects and Complex Cases at Natural England, Richard Greenhous, Forest Services Director at the Forestry Commission, and Mark Sitton-Kent, Environment Agency Director of Operations.
Today HS2 published its Green Corridor Prospectus and mapping tool setting out HS2’s plans to enhance habitats, woodlands and community spaces along its route and how people can be involved in its development. With these new Green Corridor tools, and the recent announcements of an Environmental Sustainability Committee and the new £2m Biodiversity Investment Fund for Phase 2a of the project, we believe that HS2 are putting a number of building blocks in place to strengthen delivery and reporting for the natural environment.
The HS2 Minister’s recent statement highlighted Government’s intention to increase efforts to limit the impact of HS2 on the natural environment. Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission agree; we fully support the Green Corridor but we also want to see a stronger environmental legacy from this major project. We have worked with HS2 as they have developed the Green Corridor Prospectus and mapping tool as we hope it will encourage stakeholders along the route to match their green infrastructure ambitions to HS2’s habitat creation and funding opportunities.
We’ve also been working with stakeholders and HS2 to develop a range of projects that will create or restore habitats, provide new accessible green space and link existing habitats to be ‘bigger, better, more joined up’, and projects that will conserve and enhance the historic environment too. HS2’s grants have already supported many projects, including Avon Wood, a new 11 hectare woodland funded by the HS2 Woodland Fund that includes more than 18,000 trees.
The Green Corridor Prospectus highlights the grants available for a wide range of independent environmental projects, opportunities to collaborate in partnerships, and the ‘in kind’ contributions on offer from the workforce mobilised to design and construct HS2. The mapping tool shows where Green Corridor projects are happening on the ground. This a good start and there is the potential to do so much more along the route.
We’re not naïve. We know that constructing HS2 will result in major disruption to nature and there are strong feelings caused by the loss of existing habitats and particularly by the destruction of irreplaceable ancient woodland. As each Phase of HS2 is approved by Parliament, HS2 Ltd, the Government and its agencies are given a great responsibility to ensure that the inevitable adverse impacts of the scheme will be more than counteracted by the legacy it creates. This can only be achieved through partnership working on the ground.
Our agencies want to boost green and blue infrastructure delivery around the HS2 route. And we all have a role to play in working with local stakeholders so that this delivery is informed by local need and ambition.
the Forestry Commission, as administrators of the HS2 Woodland Fund, we recognise and welcome the opportunities the HS2 Green Corridor brings to people, places and nature, contributing to government’s wider ambitions to increase and improve woodland and its many benefits across the whole of England.
For Natural England, it is also an opportunity to look at how major linear infrastructure like HS2 intersects with, and potentially delivers elements of, the Nature Recovery Network, at both national and local levels.
For the EA, it’s a real opportunity to understand how major infrastructure investment could also help to deliver some improvements to the water environment and important habitats – and benefit the people and wildlife that depend on them.
In summary we support the Green Corridor as a starting point for delivering more for the environment along the route. Moving forwards, our three agencies want to work with HS2 and government to look at how HS2 can move towards a net gain for replaceable biodiversity. Combined with the Green Corridor, we think this would leave a legacy commensurate with the scale of the project.